"Love (shrngāra), devotion (bhakti), service (sevā) in Hinduism"

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Introduction will be completed in due course – Sunthar

This multimedia dialogue with embedded music and dance performance clips, especially from Hindi and Tamil movies available at YouTube, is intended as a major contribution to the complex relationship between love (shrngāra), devotion (bhakti), and (community) service (sevā), from the perspective of Abhinavagupta's aesthetics of rasa. Though the conversation was sparked off by Radha's query of 1st October 2007 on the problematic relation between erotic love and devotion to God that are often indistinguishable from the words of a poem or a dance-drama, the exchanges provided opportunities to return to (often unfinished) earlier discussions at the Abhinavagupta Yahoo! forum. This digest celebrates the first time that video clips have been used at this svAbhinava (re-) construction zone to illustrate theoretical subtleties that are otherwise difficult to grasp. The crowning piece here is actually an extended multimedia review of Ashutosh Gowarikar's 'Gandhian' movie, Swades, that has been posted as a separate digest: a hermeneutics of the love-glance as it evolves from self-centeredness, through erotic attraction, to the devotional gaze at (one's reflection in the) Other.

The participants also include Radhakrishna Warrier, Srinivas Tilak [...]

I have inserted introductory comments to contextualize some of the posts [Do let me know if your views have been inadvertently omitted or distorted: this is an evolving archive!]. Having decided to make this archive available to the public, I would like to offer some concise clarifications—a conceptual grid as it were—of my own take on the various perspectives that are under scrutiny in this discussion:

Eros (shrngāra), the meeting of the eyes:

Devotion (bhakti), falling in love with My reflection:

Service (sevā), becoming the Other:

Bollywood, Abhinava's aesthetics, and Swades:

Related digests at svAbhinava:

Science of love: look into Gītā's eyes in the Homeland  (Gowarikar's movie Swades reviewed in light of Abhinavagupta's aesthetics)

Rāmāyana in South-East Asian traditions: culture, nationalism, and religion

This compilation will be eventually complemented by others including those listed above; in the meantime please check out the (incomplete) Abhinavagupta forum-index under the following headings and topics:


Index to threads below on “The Science of Love” dialogue:

[I have subsequently edited the post below to further clarify the, otherwise easy-to-miss, internal correspondences and wider resonances of the artistic details of the movie; click the link to the Abhinava forum archive for the original post -  SV]


-----Original Message-----

From: Radhakrishna Warrier

Sent: Monday, October 01, 2007 9:14 PM

To: Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com

Subject: Bhakti [YouTube to the rescue! - SV]

darshan do ghanashyām nāth

morī akhiyān pyāsī re

"Give me darshan (vision) O lord (who art) dark as the rain clouds, for, my eyes are thirsty (for thy darshan)."

oru muRai vandu pārāyō, vāsalai nāDi vārāyō darisanam inRu tārāyō, tōkaiyin źkkam tīrāyō

"Oh! Come to see (me) this once please, cross the door and come in please; give me your darshan (darisanam) today and quench the desire of this pea-hen."

Both are film songs, one in Hindi and one in Tamil; one an appeal in fervent bhakti for the `darshan' of the Lord and the other a plaintive call to a human lover for a glimpse of his. I know I have not succeeded in conveying the bhakti of the devotee or the earnestness of the human `tōkai' (pea-hen) when translating from Hindi and Tamil to English.

What really is bhakti? It is very difficult to understand its underpinnings. Is it an emotion transferred from a human target to a `godly' target, an idealized (and deified) version of a benevolent human master/ affectionate parent/ loving partner? Is it a glorified version of the respect (or obeisance) offered to a revered human master, or the affection towards one's beloved parents or the love

welled up for the lover? Or is it a helpless surrender to the

unknown, consequent to the conscious or subconscious knowledge that the unknowable is not in the devotee's power to know?

Thanks and regards,

Radhakrishna Warrier


Good questions Radha!

I'd recommend that members first watch this poignant extract from that classic Hindi movie "Baiju Bawara" where the hero's ecstatic rendering of how "the heart is palpitating for the vision of Krishna" (Malkauns) moves his estranged guru (also in music), Sant Haridas, now ailing on his deathbed, to forgive his otherwise cherished disciple for having been led 'astray' by human love (prem):

(perhaps, you could translate for the rest of us?)

Then, this Bharata Natyam rendering of the classic "Alay Payude"

(unfortunately, the Tamil lyrics have not been subtitled, but others might be able to follow from my rendering in earlier post:

Finally, you could try applying to the above my observations on bhakti in "Towards an integral appreciation of Abhinava's aesthetics" at


particularly the section on:

"Rasa in the service of devotion or the aestheticization of bhakti?"

"Muslim allegories on the taste of Love: becoming God’s image"

A sensual dessert after the above intellectual contortions might be

Padmini (actress) dancing in the movie *Tillāna Mohanāmbal* where the double-entendre of her lyrics applies to both the furtive hero, Shivaji Ganeshan, and also Lord Murugan thieving the heart of Valli.



P.S. Your name "Rādhā-krishna" (= Rādhā and Krishna (together), Rādhā's Krishna, the Krishna who is Rādhā, or rather that which binds both into a (bi-)unity, i.e., bhakti?) is perhaps the best answer :-)

[Rest of this thread at Sunthar V (Jul 5, 2005)



From: Radhakrishna Warrier

Sent: Friday, October 05, 2007 10:48 PM

To: Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com

Subject: Re: What is Bhakti? YouTube to the rescue!

Wonderful Sunthar. Thanks a lot.

man ta.Dapat hari darshan ko āj

guru bin gyān kahān se pāūn?

Without a Guru, from where can I get gyān (jńāna)?

Hopefully, there is somewhere a Guru who can light the lamp of jńāna

(enlightenment) in a mind immersed in rationality, where there is no place for devotion (bhakti) towards any anthropomorphic super natural powers.

… un ānanda mōhana vźNu gānamadil alai pāyudź, kaNNā

The waves surge, O Krishna ....the waves surge in my heart !

At the blissful enchanting music of thy flute …

May we all may reach the shore of enlightenment over these waves raised by the divine vźNu gānam.

And, hopefully I (and we all) will realize one day the `maRaindirundu pārkkum marmam' the secret behind hiding and watching me (us all) of the svāmin, for, `engirundālum unnai nān aRivźn', I (we all) will know thee wherever thou art.

Thanks and regards,

Radhakrishna Warrier

[In response to Sunthar's comments at the post dated Oct 2, 2007 at

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Abhinavagupta/message/4378 ]


-----Original Message-----
From: Shrinivas Tilak
Sent: Sunday, October 07, 2007 9:52 AM
To: Abhinavagupta-owner@yahoogroups.com
Subject: Re: What is Bhakti? YouTube to the rescue!

(1) Thanks Sunthar and Radhakrishna for your poetic and eloquent elucidations of bhakti. Back in June I had down-loaded from YouTube that particular song from Baiju Bawra overflowing with bhakti rasa.

(2) Let me, however, also add another [albeit more prosaic!] meaning of bhakti: serving [others]. "Bhaj sevāyām prāpane." While over the centuries bhakti has come to mean ardent devotion to one's chosen deity/deities, others have drawn attention to the sense of sharing/serving that is also implicit in the root bhaj. The Garuda Purana (Purvakhanda 231.3)  refers to "san sambhaktau" which Pandit S.D. Satavalekar has argued has reference to 'san' in sanātana [as in sanātana dharma]. Sanātana therefore also means [devoted] excellence in serving [others].


[Response to Sunthar's and Radha's exchange (Oct 5, 2007) at



From: Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com [mailto:Abhinavagupta@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Sunthar Visuvalingam
Sent: Sunday, October 07, 2007 3:08 PM
To: Abhinavagupta
Cc: akandabaratam@yahoogroups.com; Indo-Roma; MeccaBenares; Indo-Greek@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [Abhinavagupta] RE: What is Bhakti? Devotion (prem), serving/sharing (sevā), or partaking (bhaj)?

While Bharata’s theater claimed to be modeled on the ‘originary’ unifying principle of the solemn Vedic sacrifice but offered instead as a delightful spectacle to amuse all strata of Indian society, by this time the dramatic art had largely outgrown its ritual framework, narrowly defined, to carve out for itself in both theory and practice a specifically aesthetic domain, epitomized by rasa, that could be wholly endorsed by ‘heterodox’ ideologies and even by a purely ‘secular’ temperament. [ad footnotes #5 - #6]

Sunthar V., "Sanskrit theater as the total art-form based on the rasa-canon"

Hello Shrinivas,

Bhakti both as 'devotion' and 'service' may be derived, it seems to me (especially after reading the works of Biardeau), from the common meaning of 'to partake' (bhaj-). In the later Hindu context, this amounts to partaking in the nature of the divinity and, by extension, since the (often royal) temple was the nucleus of the community, in the well-being of the local polity and wider socio-religious order. As such, personal devotion to God is 'part and parcel' of identifying with and hence spontaneously serving the rest of humanity. Those who may have laughed at the silly antics of the Tamil musicians listening to the seductive 'servant of god' (deva-dāsī) sing "the secret behind hiding and watching me" (maRaindirundu pārkkum marmam) might note that this transparent 'semblance of humor' (hāsyābhāsa) only serves to highlight their "forgetting themselves" (like the dancer herself) in the shared (bhakta) enchantment of the performance (sādhāraNī-karaNa).

The participants, and even spectators, of the brahmanical sacrifice renewed their socio-cosmic roles as human nodes integral to an all-encompassing semantic network, which is why it's wholly appropriate to interpret later Hindu festivals, often centered around the king, as in the Pachali Bhairab Jātrā of Katmandu (where devotion per se plays only a marginal role with respect to ritual and calendrical exactitude), as transpositions of the Vedic paradigm extending well beyond the ranks of the twice-born (and even the confines of the Hindu community). From a social (as opposed to personal or aesthetic) perspective, such emotional attitudes may be seen as simply overlaying this 'perennial' (sanātana) infrastructure.

With an Indological background, free of the 'publish and perish' syndrome that afflicts many other academics on this list, I look forward to your contributing more regularly to these discussions!

[Rest of this thread at Sunthar's response to Radha (Oct 1, 2007) at



From: Sunthar Visuvalingam
Sent: Saturday, October 06, 2007 1:14 PM
To: Abhinavagupta
Subject: Personality of (Darbari) KāNaDa and the continuing power today of Venkata Kavi's Bhakti

Sir, the song 'koothambalathil vacho' contains the zuddha [= komal? - SV]  dhaivata and is rendered many a times in the song. So it will be rational to classify this song in the raaga Darbari Kanada, rather than Kanada which hardly contains that swara. In fact many composers use the sa ni1 dha1 in many songs which otherwise confine to the domain of Kanada. Regards, Hari // The acid test of Kanada is prayoga[characteristic note sequences - SV] like 'r2 g2 m1 d2 n2 s', 'd2 n2 p m1 p' and 'g2 m1 r2 s'. Of these, only the last can possibly be confused with Darbari Kanada. Further, 'd1' is allowed in Kanada while 'd2' is forbidden in Darbari. This is therefore Kanada. Another example of 'd1' in Kanada is the song 'Poo malai' from Sindhubhairavi (Tamil) [best Indian picture of its year - SV]  // Sir, I sincerely feel that, in your answer to my query about the rationality of confining the song 'koothambalathil vacho' to the raga Kanada, the statement that the use of suddha [= komal? - SV] dhaivata is allowed in Kanada is erroneous. Your argument that the use of dha2 in Darbari Kanada is forbidden is absolutely correct. But the use of zuddha [= komal?  - SV] dhaivatha in Kanada is only a light musician's freedom but not allowable according to the Karnatic music parlances. Nowhere in the krithi[compositions - SV] like alaipāyude, sree nārada, mamava sadā jananī etc, this swara comes into play. I humbly request you to verify this with the help of experts so that the home page of your esteemed site may not have errors.  - Hari

Srirańjanī for the Keralan Music Connoisseur

KāNada is indeed a passionately moving rāga in itself, which is why this song has such a powerful and memorable effect even on Indians who do not understand Tamil. Unlike the grave (played mostly on the lower registers) and majestic Darbārī ('courtly') KāNaDa, one of my favorite Hindustani rāgas, the replacement of the komal (La flat) with the 'natural' (zuddha) dha and the differences in moving across the scale in this Carnatic KāNaDa results in the 'northern' restraint (at least in this case) being abandoned for an ecstatic longing that oscillates, even musically, between the pain of separation and the joy of fulfillment. The dispute above about the status of the dha is perhaps due to the komal Darbari note being introduced alongside the 'natural' one of the Carnatic rāga, reflecting a (not just modern...) longstanding tendency for similar, and equally appealing, rāgas from the North and South to affect their respective renderings. The lyrics of this song and the soul of the rāga are so indelibly fused together, in my musical synapses, that I cannot recall them separately. [...] The universality of its appeal, even to 'secular' Indian tastes, is evidenced by its recent history. The audio link above (click on AlaipāyuDey) is actually to its chorus rendering as the title-song of a recent Tamil romance movie by director Maniratnam, a great hit that has served to popularize it (though some have observed that the introduction of Western percussion, etc., might have made the composer, Venkatakavi, turn in his grave....) well beyond the circle of Tamil connoisseurs. For example, I've come across requests online for an English rendering of the lyrics by other (love-?) stricken Indians who regret not knowing Tamil (...). A. R. Rehman, the Tamil Muslim music director, has been so creative with all the songs of this movie, that it has been rendered in Hindi for a much larger Indian and Indophile audience: directed by Shaad Ali, Saathiya stars Shah Rukh Khan (you might be aware that the craze for Bollywood movies extends well beyond Afghanistan into Central Asia, the Arab world and Southeast Asia...). I wonder just how many of the Muslims, atheists, etc., who celebrate this sensual feast are aware that it draws its hidden inspiration from some obscure nook of the Tamil country, from a religious experience in some god-forsaken temple (like the invisible Babette in her kitchen)?

Sunthar V., "Music, rasa, eroticism, bhakti and the reptilian trance - the waves surge, O Krishna! (in the ocean of my heart)" (25 July 2004)

The best way for most of us, unfamiliar with the technical intricacies of Indian classical music that are often points of contention even among (self-styled) connoisseurs, to appreciate and recognize the differences between rāgas is to listen intently while registering their respective emotional scopes. Though a rāga may be rendered in a variety ways, each focusing on extracting and focusing upon a particular rasa-tonality, its characteristic affective profile derives from the range of possible transitions, blending, and counterpoints provided by its transitory emotions (vyabhichāri-bhāva). Given the overlap in the scales and progressions, and hence in the enduring personalities, of the specifically Carnartic KāNaDa and of Darbari KanaDa, we might begin by enjoying what is most distinctive (the resonances around the komal dha) in the latter as it unfolds in all its courtly majesty, with a passion that is as deep as it is restrained, in the "Reign of the Mughal":

Darbari, whose creation is attributed to the legendary Tansen, the jewel who adorned the court of Akbar, descends dramatically upon the scene to emphasize the magnificence of the 'great' Emperor, whom Madhubala (actress) begins by saluting in the Muslim style. Thereby, the stage is set for the contrast when Darbari ceases just as dramatically for her to sing before him defiantly "What is there to fear when love rules?" (over her heart...note the play with Salim's dagger).

Contrast this musically with Alai Pāyude in KāNaDa as choreographed by A.R. Rehman and rendered by Kalyani Menon et al in a straightforward manner (that I find more appealing than the embellishments of the virtusoso Sudha Rahunathan...):


Here, the majesty is gone and the passion is more unbridled despite the measured tempo, which is especially emphasized in this rendering. Now, consider the ambiguity of "Poomalai vāngi vanthān" from the recent movie Sindhu-bhairavī


"He brought garlands [for his beloved mistress] but there were no flowers [for she had abandoned him]" ("what's the purpose of music when there are no ears here to listen...?"). Is this Darbārī or KāNāDā? Does it really matter?

Especially, when we see how maestro Bhimsen Joshi can render the profound (gambhīra) Darbarī itself to convey the (even adulterous) nāyikā's (abhisārikā) trepidation that her jingling anklets (jhanak jhanakvā) will betray her stealthy passion:

It may not be so surprising, for Indians, that even oldies from half-forgotten Bollywood hits like Mugha-e-Azam are not just making a comeback (on YouTube) but extending their reach well into the West, as in this London performance by Ruby:

But to make of this fusion rendering of Venkata Kavi's other immortal Tamil composition "Thāye [O mother] Yashoda [of the wayward Krishna]" also sung by Sudha Ragunathan (much more passionately, this time, in the plaintive Carnatic rāga Todi) through the 'Telugu' mouth of Shabana Azmi (Muslim member of Indian Senate) in the unusual 2006 movie "Morning Rāga," which depicts the 'conflict' between West and East within India itself through the medium of musical encounter?

The continuing power and universal appeal of the Indian aesthetics of Rasa, as expounded by Abhinavagupta, is that it inextricably blends human emotions with intimations of the divine making it approachable from so many angles...



[Response to Radha's post (Oct 5, 2007) at
Re: What is Bhakti? YouTube to the rescue!
Rest of this thread at Sunthar V. (Jul 23, 2005)
"Is Abhinavagupta still relevant to the emerging global aesthetics?"]